Quill and Quire

REVIEWS

« Back to
Book Reviews

Waltzing the Tango: Confessions of an Out-of-step Boomer

by Gabrielle Bauer

One effect of the success of the Bridget Jones books, besides too many copy-cat efforts, is that author Helen Fielding raised the bar for portrayals of baffled, self-absorbed, youngish women. Bridget, lucky for her, had an author who used her character’s fraught goofiness not only for humour, but to play with some real, in-their-small-way-important, female confusions.
Waltzing the Tango is also an account of amusing-but-puzzled womanhood, dealing exclusively with the life and times of author Gabrielle Bauer. Born in 1957, multi-talented but vastly impatient, Bauer estimates she held more than 50 jobs before finally opting in her late 30s for self-employment as a freelance writer. Even by easy-come, easy-go baby-boom standards, this makes her exceptionally fast-footed – contrary to the title, more like someone jitterbugging to a tango.
As she ricochets from one school, degree, workplace, and country to another (Bauer co-won the Canada-Japan Book Prize for Tokyo, My Everest, about her stint in Japan), she suffers the usual insecurities about love, sex, personal appearance, and the expectations of others – unfortunately those of her mother, a Holocaust survivor with high hopes for her children in Canada.
Bauer wants readers to understand how pressured she felt by these expectations, but her mother sounds, to the untraumatized ear, more hopeful than insistent. The mother says, “You can be anything you want to be,” and Bauer hears a desire for status. The mother says her daughter is perfect in various ways, and Bauer hears demands for perfection. Despite the book’s perky doses of humour, the undertone of fearful, lifelong aggrievement persists.
Bauer does recognize that she is endowed with the boomer’s stereotypical sense of entitlement, but may not realize how grating it can sound when extended over two decades’ worth of recollections. She marries, divorces, and marries again. She can no longer reasonably call herself young. She takes up freelancing. She has two children. And by the end – not a very amusing conclusion – she sounds very much like what Bridget Jones so aptly called a smug-married.